Fat Stories in the Classroom
What and How Are They Teaching About Us?
Our thoughts, feelings, judgments, and understanding of reality are all shaped by and subject to the power of stories. Theoreticians and strategists, people in the helping professions, advertisers, and propagandists analyze how stories can influence people and policies; parents, preachers, and politicians have always recognized this power. So do revolutionaries. Liberation movement leaders encourage new stories told, sung, and danced in the voices of the oppressed. They pressure existing publications to include these voices, and they create new publications. Call it size acceptance, fat civil rights, body diversity, or fat liberation, our civil rights movement is committed to bringing about an end to the demonizing, dehumanizing, pathologizing, victimizing, stigmatizing, bullying, humiliating, oppression, scapegoating, and hatred of fat people. We are telling our stories through all the arts, publishing and performing them, we demand positive images of us in all media, and we now insist on their inclusion in pre-K through graduate school across the curriculum in ways that maximize their revolutionary, liberatory impact.
Are there already stories about fat people in the curriculum? Which stories? Which courses? And in what contexts are these stories being read? I queried six academic Listservs for information about short stories with significant fat characters. I examined the tables of contents of dozens of currently in-print short-story anthologies. Finally, I googled the title of the most frequently anthologized “fat” story—“The Fat Girl” by Andres Dubus—looking for syllabi that included that story. I analyzed those syllabi to garner some sense of what use was made (or was intended to be made) of that story
A syllabus published online is both a public document and a literary text. Regardless of whether or not the class “makes” (i.e., isn't cancelled), whether the author/ teacher retains control in the classroom and adheres to the authored, published text describing expectations and intent, or whether the author/teacher changes direction in medias res, the public document remains online until removed, and can therefore be analyzed. Although what is printed on a syllabus is at best an approximation of what actually happens in a classroom, reading the syllabus can tell us much about the intentions and attitudes of its author; after all, a syllabus is a formulaic literary text